Liberian Students Achieve Masters Degrees

Liberian Students Achieve Masters' Degrees, with Global Institute Support

It wasn’t only Yale students who celebrated receiving their Master’s degrees in Forestry this year.  In part through the efforts of Yale Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, two employees of the Liberian Forest Development Authority (FDA), the Liberian national forest service, Blamah Goll and Simulu Kamara, joined the graduates of the 63rd Graduation Ceremony of Makerere University in Uganda, to receive their Master’s degrees from the School of Forestry, Environmental and Geographical Sciences there, one of the oldest and most highly respected forestry schools in Africa. 

The Liberians’ achievement was a result of an infrequent opportunity in a country where less than 3% of the population is estimated to acquire any higher education at all, funded in part and administered by the Yale Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme Special Unit on South-South Cooperation.  The South-South Special Unit works to nurture sharing of knowledge, experience, technical prowess, appropriate technologies, financial and in-kind contributions between developing countries, with developed countries serving to facilitate and foster these South-South linkages via triangular partnerships.

Forests are increasingly recognized as vital ecosystems that support rural livelihoods in every region, sequester carbon, support biodiversity and produce timber. Liberia’s forests had suffered from years of unsustainable and irresponsible logging due to civil war and corrupt government.  With an end to the civil war, and under a new government, Liberia is faced with an enormous challenge to put in place the necessary capacity to sustainably manage their remaining forests. However, the core infrastructure of forests, people, and a forest management organization is in place to rebuild a sustainable forestry sector.  Liberia can take advantage of this basis and build an infrastructure of knowledgeable, skilled people in the government and private sectors to understand how to manage their forests on many scales, from national policies to community livelihoods.

Dr. John Kakonge of the UNDP Special Unit on South-South Cooperation visited Liberia in 2008, and met with Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf concerning the training needs of the Liberian Forest Development Authority.  Dr. Chad Oliver, Director of the Yale Global Institute then visited Liberia, where he met with the Liberia FDA, and toured representative forests and facilities within Liberia.  As a result of these meetings, a program was established to assess the capacity of institutions in Africa and elsewhere in the tropics to provide training/education to Liberian forestry sector personnel.  As part of the project two Liberian employees of the FDA were selected to study forestry in the master’s degree program at Makerere University in Uganda.  Originally established in 1922 as a technical college, Makerere University expanded over the years to into an institution of higher education, first as an affiliate of the University College of London, becoming an independent Ugandan national university in 1970.   The students selected for the program, Goll and Kamara both hold Bachelor of Science degrees in Forestry from the University of Liberia.  For their Master’s degrees, the two men spent two years in residence in Uganda, and were required to carry out independent research and write a final thesis.  Assoc. Prof. Gorettie N. Nabanoga, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Makerere was a fount of assistance to their adaptation to life in Uganda as well as academic assistance and provided a bridge from Uganda to our office in the U.S.

 Assoc. Prof. Gorettie N. Nabanoga, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Makerere  

The students selected for the program, Goll and Kamara both hold Bachelor of Science degrees in Forestry from the University of Liberia.  Goll has worked for the FDA since his graduation in 2000, while Kamara taught Biology at the Secondary School level before becoming a practicing forester.  In addition, Goll had taken advantage of other opportunities to travel to both Costa Rica and China for specialized training sessions on protected areas management, and wildlife management for developing countries. 

For their Master’s degrees, the two men spent two years in residence in Uganda, and were required to carry out independent research and write a final thesis.  Their research was carried out during the summer break, back in Liberia.  Both students chose topics relevant to the problem of sustaining forest reserves in Liberia through engagement with the local population.  Blamah Goll looked at the “Benefits and Challenges of Integrated Conservation and Development Projects on Local Communities Adjacent to Sapo National Park, Liberia”.  Sapo National Park is Liberia’s largest protected area of rainforest and its only national park, including one of - if not the most - intact forest ecosystem in Liberia.   Integrated Conservation and Development Projects initiative (ICDPs) are an approach to simultaneously address issues of poverty, access rights and environmental degradation in rural communities based on the assumption that protecting wildlife, biodiversity and forest ecosystems can be enhanced by providing benefits to rural frontline communities through sustainable livelihoods. Goll used questionnaires and interviews among households in towns closest to the protected area where ICDPs operate to examine the benefits to the local population of the ICDPs and the benefits to the park in the terms of reduced poaching and land encroachment, as well as strategies and challenges for implementing ICDPs around Sapo National Park.

The state of roads in Liberia demonstrates one obstacle to using forests for obtaining marketable sustainable goods for rural people in Liberia.

Simulu Kamara chose to work in the East Nimba Nature Reserve (ENNR) in the North of Liberia.  Established in 2003, the area is high in biodiversity, but threatened due to the high density of iron ore in the area, resulting in high levels of extraction, accompanied by serious environmental destruction including in the past mountaintop removal, road construction and forest clearing.  Ongoing resource extraction both commercial and subsistence continues, particularly the poaching of bushmeat, and there is thought to be selective over-hunting of high value species in the area, including the West African Chimpanzee.  His study topic was of “Community Forestry and Its Impacts on Rural Livelihood of People Living Adjacent to East Nimba Nature Reserve, Liberia”.  

The concept of community forestry had been introduced into forestry management in Liberia in 2005 following the change in national government.  Prior to that time, the management of forest resources had been entirely the government responsibility.  Community forestry is conceived of as involving the local people who depend directly on forest resources to be part of decision making in some or all aspects of forest management, from managing resources to formulating and implementing institutional frame work.  By integrating rural communities in the management of the forestry resources it was hoped to curb the rate of depletion of the forest resources as well as to improve their livelihood of the local communities through equitable sharing of the forest resource revenues.  However, despite its introduction, forest resource degradation in Liberia has continued to be high and the livelihoods of the people have not improved. Kamara’s research therefore, was intended to examine the linkages between community forest management and the livelihoods of the people in Liberia and natural resource degradation.  Specifically he looked to identify various livelihoods options of the people living adjacent to East Nimba Nature Reserve, assess the involvement of local people in the management of East Nimba Nature Reserve, examine the effect of community forest management on the livelihood of the peopleliving adjacent to East Nimba Nature Reserve, and document the challenges of community involvement in East Nimba Nature reserve and determine the contribution of community forestry to the livelihoods of local communities.

Men arrested for illegal forest poaching.

For both men, the advanced training they received will make them more useful in their roles with the Liberian Forest Development Authority, while the results of their studies will provide a contribution to forest management in their area.  It has been an easy experience, having to spend so much time in a foreign country away from their families.  Difficulties they had to face included a faculty strike that interrupted the semester and sent them back to Liberia for several months leading to a delay in finishing their coursework, problems with mail that meant not receiving needed books and publications, and the considerable red tape involved in being the subjects of a program in Liberia and Uganda, administered from Yale, including buying airline tickets, and paying tuition, school fees and living stipends.  In the end, their willingness to trust Yale and persevere paid off, and in January they made one more trip to Uganda, to join the 2013 Graduating Class in celebrating their achievement.

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